Rowing is one of the best forms of exercise out there. It combines a cardiovascular workout with muscle development. And, unlike other cardio machines (treadmills, bikes, etc.) it’s a workout for the whole body! Because it works twice as many muscle groups as a treadmill, you’ll burn more calories faster. Proper rowing form promotes good posture, healthy backs, and is a great way to stay in shape. It’s also a low-impact activity. Running places a lot of stress on joints, while rowing is a more fluid, natural motion. It minimizes orthopedic trauma and ensures that your whole body gets in better shape.
Whether you’re looking to continue a lifelong practice or are thinking about starting a fitness regimen for the first time, indoor rowing machines are a great piece of equipment to own. They’re low-maintenance, simple to assemble, and don’t require lots of accessories. There are quite a few options on the market, priced anywhere from $200-$2000. Most are grouped by the type of resistance system used.
Hydraulic resistance is the least expensive option, and these models are generally very quiet. Piston systems allow adjustable resistance in a compact package. But rowing motions with these models tend to be different from tradition form because many don’t have a sliding seat. The stationary motion of the row also means that you’ll be using your upper body more.
Magnetic resistance systems are middling in price. They’re more durable than piston systems, and they allow for a more realistic rowing experience with minimal noise. Working on a sliding track like air rowers, magnetic rowers are compact and usually easy to take down for storage.
Air rowers use a fan as a resistor, and these are generally more expensive. However, the simplicity of their design makes them strong and long-lasting. They take up more space than hydraulic or magnetic models, but most recent models make accommodations for people who will be taking them down frequently.
Thinking about your fitness plan will help you figure out how much time you’ll be spending with your new rowing machine. If you’re looking to get in shape, maybe for the first time, you’ll probably want something with low-to-medium resistance. An inexpensive model will allow you to try rowing without spending a lot of money. Piston resistance systems offer a lot to the entry-level rower. However, they tend to be less durable and have inadequate resistance for stronger people and lifelong rowers. Magnetic rowers are great for people who exercise a fair amount. They are still limited in their resistance potential, but are sufficient for most home users. Air rowers are used by most professionals and serious athletes. They’re also used in fitness clubs and gyms because they can handle quite a lot of wear. If you’ll be spending lots of time with your machine, you’ll want to think about an air rower.
If you have long-term goals, or are a lifelong athlete, consider making a larger investment for something you know will last you a long time. The better shape you’re in, the more you’ll be putting your exercise equipment to the test. Also, you’ll want a rowing machine which can help you monitor your progress with a solid computer system. This will help you stay on track with your fitness plan.
If you’re a heavier person, you’ll want to make sure you check to see how high the user rating is on a rowing machine model. Some aren’t built for bigger bodies. Also, bear in mind that collapsible models won’t be able to handle as much weight as a solid piece. More expensive air rowers tend to be the sturdiest options out there.
Most rowing machines are long, low and thin, with a central track and a resistance system at one end. They’ll fit well in a garage or home gym environment. If you’ve already got space dedicated to a home gym, you probably don’t need to worry about size. If you’re going to be using them in your living room, you might want to think about finding a rowing machine with non-traditional or collapsible build. Some are collapsible, while others are simply modified and have smaller footprints. Piston rowers and magnetic rowers tend to be smaller, more easily-collapsible choices. Air rowers are more bulky, but some models do have collapsible features built in.
Overall, the more expensive rowing machines tend to be better made, but some top models come with added electronic frills that don’t really make an impact on the exercise experience. You’ll also want to consider the durability of the rowing machine in question. If you’re planning on making rowing a part of your life in the long term, it’s a good idea to make a larger investment now and have it last.
There’s a lot to think about, and a lot of models to choose from. We’ve done some of the work for you. Here are our top picks for value, quality, and user popularity:
Stamina Air Rower
A budget-price air rower with a sturdy, compact frame. It comes with a foldable frame and built-in wheels for storage. The Stamina is inexpensive, but has all the basic features you need for your workouts, including an electronic fitness monitor. Perfect for working out at home without needing the space of a full home gym.
The footprint is quite small. At 77”, it’s much shorter than the Concept II. The Stamina also folds up simply and can be wheeled into storage.
The wind-resistance design provides a realistic rowing experience at a very low cost. Most reviewers wrote about how satisfied they were with their workouts on such an inexpensive machine. While some mentioned that the resistance isn’t adjustable, other users clarified that because it’s a wind model, it simply responds to the speed at which you row.
It’s not the best choice for larger rowers. There’s nothing at the back of the rail to stop the seat sliding off, and that’s a possibility if you’ve got quite long legs. Also, the model is only rated for rowers up to 250 pounds. One buyer said it’s “Not built for big weight or really hard pulling.”
Because it’s a budget model, it lacks certain design elegance which you’d find in the Concept II, for example. The fan is loud, and one reviewer wrote that “It definitely sounds like you’re firing up a jet engine.” It also uses more plastic in its design, which is less durable than a metal casing.
The electronics are fairly limited, and some reviewers seemed to think that the readings were inaccurate. Don’t expect integration with other devices, but you will get a basic readout.
The Stamina is a true air rower at a very low price. However, be prepared for the no-frills experience. It’s not for professionals, but it’s simple and easy to use. Stamina also backs up the frame with a 3-year warranty, and previous buyers found that if a part broke beyond the 90-day parts warranty, customer service was prompt and helpful. It’ll give a more authentic rowing motion than other budget models.
“If you’re looking for a great workout with good quality and excellent customer service, get this right now!!”
Concept II Rowing Machine
A high-end rowing machine which is durable, simple, and easy to use. It’s very popular among gyms and fitness clubs, and is the top choice for most professional indoor training and competitions. The machine uses a fan resistance system with a flywheel, and comes with a computer system and included software. “Absolutely wonderful. Great work out and easy on back and knees.”
Most rowing machines with fan systems are incredibly loud. Noise comes from the fan as well as the chain used to pull it. The Concept II minimizes this by way of a flywheel belted on to the fan itself. This maximizes resistance while greatly diminishing the overall noise level.
The workout is challenging, but flexible. The resistance system is adjustable, and the machine operates on the principle that “the person doing the rowing decides the amount and duration.” Basically, the faster you pull, the harder the resistance. While experienced rowers will not be disappointed by the reflexive nature of the pull, even reviewers who were “starting from nothing” found that their workouts left them feeling more fit and more flexible.
The Concept II is built to last. It’s rated for users up to 500 lbs, and comes with a long warranty period. The frame is insured for 5 years, and the moving parts for 2 years. One reviewer said “these things are pretty much bulletproof.”
It comes apart easily, and can be stored in two pieces. The manufacturer warns against standing it up while fully put together, as it could be knocked over. However, many reviewers found that they could easily lean it up against the wall for a simpler storage solution.
The PM-5 computer system is Bluetooth enabled and is designed to be able to share fitness data with your phone, watch, or computer. It also comes with software which includes preset workouts, games, and data tracking.
A couple reviewers found that the included foot-straps loosened too easily. They replaced them with velcro, but this seems to be an isolated issue.
The monitor/computer system seems to be a bit glitchy when connecting to external devices. One customer was disappointed that the software was difficult to integrate with other fitness apps.
If you’re prepared to shell out for a professional-grade machine, you can’t do better than the made-in-the-USA Concept II. With its solid construction and simple design, it’s no wonder so many gyms and rowing clubs use this model. One reviewer wrote that “Despite the positive reviews, this item exceeded my expectations. The machine is extraordinarily solid.”
Velocity Exercise Magnetic Rower
It’s designed to be taken down easily, and includes built-in wheels for getting it out of the way conveniently.
The magnetic resistance system is very quiet, and was described as “a slight whir quieter than normal conversation but a little louder than a loud whisper.”
The electronics seem to be a notable plus, and most buyers found it intuitive and easy to use. “I use all of the built in programs, the heart rate monitor, and the stroke count. The choice of what to base my workout on helps me to tailor my workouts and stay interested.”
Many reviewers found it a durable piece of equipment. One writer said that the machine was still going strong after 4 years. The construction is heavy metal, supported by a central aluminum beam.
The resistance only goes so high. One reviewer noted that “The highest level on this machine is what I would call medium on an air rower.”
Several reviewers had trouble with the assembly process. They found that the packaging and included instructions were confusing and hard to follow.
It’s not for taller rowers. While the compact design makes it a convenient choice, one reviewer advised “It fits my 6’2″ body, but not sure if I would purchase it if I were 6’6″ or taller.” Another person found that the design doesn’t allow the rower to lean forward as far as you might like before starting a stroke.
Buyers praised the overall quality of the construction, and expected the machine to last them a long time. Most found that the resistance satisfied their needs and that the electronic system had plenty of pre-programmed workouts to keep them challenged. It’s a good choice for the average rower, who wants something durable and comfortable. If you need higher resistance, the Concept II might be a better choice.
“a terrific workout with probably the most thorough electronic interface I’ve ever used on electronic fitness equipment. Great quality!”
We’ve looked at three of the best rowing machines available online. The Stamina Air Rower gives you the realistic experience and quality resistance of air rowers at the price of a hydraulic model. It’s perfect for the beginner rower or for casual fitness enthusiasts. The Concept II is the ultimate indoor rowing machine–durable, variable, and well-equipped. If you’re a serious fitness buff, and are going to make an investment, you can’t do better than this machine. The Velocity Magnetic Rower, is a great midrange option for everyone in between. It’s solid, compact, and provides a wide range of exercise for most users.
Any rowing machine will work better for you if you develop proper rowing form. Most machines come with instructional materials. There are also plenty of video tutorials on the internet. Make sure you take the time to learn about form and technique, especially if you’re a first-time rower. Proper form will improve your fitness results, minimize wear and tear on your machine, and keep your body safe during exercise. Check out this helpful video from the WaterRower company: